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Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous country, is facing a garlic shortage and is but the latest large country to experience a scarcity of the popular plant.
Indonesia is lacking enough garlic in large part due to new rules limiting the imports of certain fruits and vegetables, the Jakarta Globe reported. The rules supposedly were put in place to ensure food safety, but they also reportedly had the goal of giving local farmers an edge in sales. The problem? Indonesia, by itself, doesn’t produce enough garlic to meet demand within the country.
“Officials appear to have forgotten to check whether Indonesia is actually a serious producer of garlic,” the Financial Times reported. “Indonesia only produces 14,000 tons of garlic a year but national demand is around 400,000 tons.”
The shortage caused garlic prices in Indonesia to soar by 31 percent. Government officials were trying to make up for the shortage by fast-tracking import licenses so that some 134,000 tons of garlic could be brought into the country as quick as possible.
Another Asian country, China, produces 70 percent of the world’s garlic , but has had trouble keeping up with worldwide demand in years recently – mostly because of demand at home. In 2009 and 2010, Chinese citizens bought garlic in unprecedented quantities, believing it could prevent or heal the H1N1 swine flu. That caused prices to soar and led to a worldwide garlic shortage. In 2009 China cut in half its normal export total to the United States.
The rush for garlic also led to a shortage  of the plants in restaurants in China. The Taipei Times called it the “garlic gold rush.” In fact, in ’09 garlic outperformed gold and stocks and was China’s top performing asset, USA Today reported.
Scientists cautioned against believing garlic would prevent H1N1, but some people weren’t listening.
“Garlic can definitely help prevent swine flu,” Li Jingfeng, chairman of the Jinxiang Garlic Association  in China’s Shandong province, told USA Today.
Liu Zhan, who sells garlic at a Chinese market, agreed.
“Garlic kills bacteria, and I eat at least half a bulb each day,” Liu said.
Moldova, an eastern European country, fed its army in ’09 a diet that consisted of garlic to ward off H1N1. Whether garlic can help prevent swine flu is debatable, but its overall health benefits are well-known.
Garlic is an antioxidant and is beneficial in fighting heart disease , according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. That’s partially because it acts as a natural blood thinner, meaning it can help fight atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, as well as high cholesterol, according to the medical center’s website. One four-year study showed that people who took 900 milligrams of garlic powder each down slowed the development of high blood pressure.
Garlic also may be beneficial in fighting some forms of cancer.
“In test tubes,” the medical center said, “garlic seems to kill cancer cells. And population studies — ones that follow groups of people over time — suggest that people who eat more raw or cooked garlic are less likely to get colon and stomach cancers and cancer of the esophagus.”
In fact, “researchers who reviewed 7 studies found a 30% reduction in risk of colorectal cancer among people who ate a lot of raw or cooked garlic.” Garlic supplements didn’t “have the same effect.”
Leo Galland, a medical doctor and author who writes for the Huffington Post, said the medical benefits  of garlic are obvious.
“Would you be willing to smell a little worse to feel a little better?” he asked.